California is considering phasing out oil drilling in the state by 2045 to minimize carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
Unlike, for example, West Virginia or Oklahoma, our economy is not largely reliant on fossil fuels. However, for at least one part of California, ceasing oil extraction would be a huge problem.
On the north side of Los Angeles, Kern County is the heart of the state’s oil industry. In Kern County, 70% of the state’s oil comes from. 16,000 people are employed by the industry in the area.
And, most critically, oil and gas contribute roughly one-quarter of the county’s property tax revenue, which pays for schools, law enforcement, hospitals, and other public services. “Nowhere else in California is wedded to oil and gas the way we are, and we can’t replace what it delivers overnight,” the county’s top administrative officer, Ryan Alsop, told The New York Times.
Despite California’s strong commitment to lowering its carbon footprint, my colleague Brad Plumer recently traveled to Kern County and reported about his experiences there. Kern County provides a window into the challenges that other areas in the United States may encounter as they attempt to wean themselves off of fossil fuel-based economies.
Kern County will be unable to maintain its roads paved and libraries operating if California bans oil drilling. This is the crux of the issue. As the county is currently the state’s leading source of wind and solar power, some have advised turning to renewables. Expanding businesses like aerospace, manufacturing, hydrogen and biodiesel production as well as carbon capture technology are also being discussed by local authorities in the area.
Brad informed me that “everyone’s thinking hard about how the county can reinvent itself,” including politicians, companies, environmentalists, and academics. If the state is serious about phasing out oil production so rapidly, then all of these methods will take longer than the county has to implement them.
Kern County will have a harder time attracting new businesses if it waits until the current tax revenue and employment streams have dried up. Residents of a town that can’t afford to maintain its parks, police department, or social services won’t want to put down roots there.
Many places, such as coal communities in West Virginia and towns in the Rust Belt after the fall of heavy industry, have had difficulty bouncing back.
It’s possible that Kern County can take inspiration from the municipality of Tonawanda, New York, which lost millions in tax revenue in 2015 when its coal plant was shut down. As a result of the aid of the New York State Legislature, it is currently trying to revitalize its waterfront and boost the town’s industries including tire manufacturing.
To help displaced oil and gas employees, Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously suggested $65 million, $200 million to clean up abandoned wells, and $450,000 for municipalities to diversify their industries in California.
As the end of oil drilling nears, the state may commit additional funds, but it is unclear how those funds should best support Kern County. Brad commented.
I think the state is sympathetic to this problem,” he said. As a result, “no one has a great template for exactly what you do.”